At first glance, they look like the stroller brigade – 15 moms running around Mission Park and along the Centennial Trail with babies and toddlers in tow.
But this isn’t just a walk in the park. When it comes to exercise, these women with the baby joggers mean business.
“Make sure you’re breathing,” says Colleen Connell as the moms break into a sweat.
After about 10 minutes of lunges, some calisthenic movements and power walking around the park, the fitness instructor leads them in a series of toning exercises involving resistance bands.
“Core is tight,” she reminds them. “Knees are soft. … Engage your pelvic floor.”
Throughout their workout, the moms sing the ABCs or recite nursery rhymes together as they smile and make eye contact with their children in strollers.
For one hour, three times a week, these women from throughout the area take part in Stroller Strides, a fitness program for moms with young children.
Instead of hiring a baby sitter to watch their little ones for a few hours, they bring their kids along and the children and strollers become part of their workout.
“It’s great for both of us – I get to meet other moms and it’s entertaining for my son,” says Sarah Mortensen of Spokane Valley, who has been coming to class since last August, when Joseph was 3 months old.
Mortensen also has lost weight, regained muscle tone and dropped two dress sizes in less than a year.
For some moms and dads, life with young children can become so overwhelming that exercise and their own nutrition fall by the wayside. It’s especially difficult for parents of newborns; some have yet to find childcare or don’t feel comfortable leaving their infants. Other moms struggle to become active again, especially after the weight gain of pregnancy.
Stroller Strides is one of several groups in the area that offer parents, particularly moms, the opportunity to focus on their own health and exercise – not just with other mothers, but also with their children.
Two years ago, Jessica Durgan, a registered dietitian and certified fitness instructor in Spokane, founded Movin’ Mommas, a fitness group for mothers and children that meet several times a week at a park or in the malls.
She gave birth to her third child and took a short break earlier this year, but is offering classes again. Movin’ Mommas’ summer session started this month and goes through October.
Durgan takes turns teaching with her sister-in-law, Kelly Collins, who works out with her 3-month-old twins in a double jogger.
“Once I had kids, I knew it would be a challenge to find time to stay active, so why not start a program that allows you to work out with the kids?” says Durgan.
Jessica Steinberg of Herbs & More in north Spokane had the same idea, but she wanted to involve older kids.
“Some parents want to exercise but they don’t think they can because they have children,” says the mother of 9- and 10-year-old daughters.
To encourage families to seek a healthier lifestyle, Steinberg decided to start a parent and child exercise class for moms and dads with kids ages 5 and older.
“When kids see you do something, they want to do it, too,” says Steinberg. “This is a way for parents and kids to exercise and have fun together.”
Stroller Strides – which offers classes at nearly 1,000 locations nationwide – started in Spokane two years ago with Nancy Schmidt, a communications professor at Gonzaga University who was pregnant at the time. When Schmidt returned to work last year, Connell decided to take over.
A transplant from San Francisco, Connell had been taking part in Stroller Strides since her daughter was 2 months old.
At first, Connell thought the moms would simply walk around the park with their strollers. She quickly discovered it entailed a full-body aerobic workout.
“I was really sore and I liked it,” Connell recalls.
During the early months, her daughter slept while she worked out. These days, 17-month-old Hannah plays by herself or interacts with her mom and other kids while sitting in her stroller.
Throughout the workout, moms can easily stop to breast-feed, change a diaper, find a snack or toy or do whatever it takes to make sure their children are comfortable.
“Our number one priority is the kids,” Connell emphasizes.
Connell – whose Stroller Strides certification included classes on prenatal and postnatal fitness as well as anatomy and other topics – encourages the women to eat well and take care of themselves.
“We focus on building strength so that we can go about doing the daily activities that are part of being a mom,” says Connell, who worked as a nurse before becoming a fitness instructor.
As a mother, her exercises are functional: core workouts, cardio, stroller lunges, bicep curls, and of course, Kegels.
“This is the most productive hour of my day,” says Kiri Mathieson, who comes to class with 14-month-old Amelia. “You get to exercise and be with your little one. It’s the ultimate multitasking activity.”
The Stroller Strides group meets at Mission Park during the spring and summer months and in NorthTown Mall from mid-October until the end of April. In addition to their strollers, moms are asked to bring a water bottle, mat or towel and sunscreen when they’re outdoors.
Membership is $40 a month with a $35 registration fee and includes two resistance bands, a T-shirt and a bag of goodies. Discounts are available to low-income families and full-time students.
The class involves children as young as six weeks and as old as 5. Most of them sit in baby joggers, but any stroller except the umbrella kind will do, according to Connell.
Participants include women of all fitness levels – those who worked out a lot and remained active during their pregnancies, as well as moms who have never really exercised or taken part in a fitness class. Some of the Stroller Strides members are pregnant women who modify their workouts.
In addition to being a fitness class, Stroller Strides is also a support network for some moms – a safe place where they can talk to other moms about breast-feeding, teething and other issues.
After their workouts, the women and children stick around to play at the park and continue talking. Sometimes, they’ll have recipe swaps or activities that include arts-and-crafts for the kids.
Once a month, the women of Stroller Strides will gather without children for a moms’ night out at a restaurant. They also host picnics for the entire family and sponsor fundraisers that help area nonprofits.
Stroller Strides is a great way for children to see their mothers exercise and adopt a healthy lifestyle, says Schmidt, who continues to work out with the group along with her daughter, 21-month-old Tanis.
“Exercise!” says Tanis, whenever she sees her mom take out the baby jogger and resistance bands.
“The best part is the support you get from other mothers,” says Schmidt. “It’s great to have this network of other moms who are also trying to stay healthy and connected.”
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